I Know I Am, But What Are You?by Samantha Bee
Candid, outspoken, laugh-out-loud funny essays from the much-loved Samantha Bee, the Most Senior Correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart .
Critics have called her “sweet, adorable, and vicious.” But there is so much more to be said about Samantha Bee. For one, she’s Canadian. Whatever that means. And now, she opens up for the very… See more details below
Candid, outspoken, laugh-out-loud funny essays from the much-loved Samantha Bee, the Most Senior Correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart .
Critics have called her “sweet, adorable, and vicious.” But there is so much more to be said about Samantha Bee. For one, she’s Canadian. Whatever that means. And now, she opens up for the very first time about her checkered Canadian past. With charming candor, she admits to her Lennie from Of Mice and Men–style love of baby animals, her teenage crime spree as one-half of a car-thieving couple (Bonnie and Clyde in Bermuda shorts and braces), and the fact that strangers seem compelled to show her their genitals. She also details her intriguing career history, which includes stints working in a frame store, at a penis clinic, and as a Japanese anime character in a touring children’s show.
Samantha delves into all these topics and many more in this thoroughly hilarious, unabashedly frank collection of personal essays. Whether detailing the creepiness that ensues when strangers assume that your mom is your lesbian lover, or recalling her girlhood crush on Jesus (who looked like Kris Kristofferson and sang like Kenny Loggins), Samantha turns the spotlight on her own imperfect yet highly entertaining life as relentlessly as she skewers hapless interview subjects on The Daily Show. She shares her unique point of view on a variety of subjects as wide ranging as her deep affinity for old people, to her hatred of hot ham. It’s all here, in irresistible prose that will leave you in stitches and eager for more.
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Read an Excerpt
Every once in a while I think about what my life would be like if my parents had stayed together and not separated while I was still a baby. Obviously it would involve a regular commute to the maximum-security penitentiary to visit whichever of them had committed the murder that signaled the official end to their marriage. Something relatively insignificant would have pushed them to the brink. Perhaps my mother wouldn’t have been able to tolerate sorting through my father’s soiled gym bag to do his laundry one more time, or my father wouldn’t have been able to handle my mother’s growing interest in founding a pioneer-style ecovillage—whatever the trigger, one of them would have snapped.
The surviving parent would sit happily in their cell, content to be free of the shackles of the doomed relationship, and secure in the knowledge that it had been a justifiable homicide. Their new life would be such a relief that they would dive hungrily into something formerly out of character: a study of medieval French literature or raku pottery classes. Embracing their reinvented self with gusto, they would send misshapen vases and epic poems home at Christmastime, to the bewilderment of their grandchildren. Only the penal system would really blame them for their crime. Anyone who had known them would have thought, Oh yeah, makes sense. They were a terrible couple. I’m amazed they didn’t try to kill each other years earlier . . .
I come from a long, magnificent tradition of divorce, dating back to the time when nobody was doing it, when it was shameful and nearly impossible to get one. Our family legacy of failed marriage dates back to the era in which women whose behavior vaguely pushed the boundaries of social acceptability were automatically considered either mentally deficient or, more likely, hookers. If you wanted to be an actor, for example, that was just an artsy way of saying, “I do it for money.” If you opted to have a job, then you may have been a “career gal” by day, but everyone knew it was probably just a front for your nighttime hookering. And if you dared to get a divorce, then you were indisputably a hooker, and God bless the poor husband who had to put up with you for so long, you horrible floozy
The women in my family were often suspected of this kind of sluttery, but the glorious truth is that they mostly just loved to marry sadists. Men who liked to beat them up physically or psychologically, drink up all the food money, start a side family, and then proceed to drink up all their new family’s food money, too. It was quite a collection of gentlemen that the women on both sides of my family had collectively cast aside. I’m sure they would have endured any tawdry accusations with relish if those accusations had been accompanied by divorce papers.
Dating from well before the turn of the twentieth century if there has ever been a successful, happy marriage in my family lineage, I have yet to hear about it. When I rack my brain, I can’t think of a single adult, other than myself, in my immediate or extended family who has not been painfully divorced at least once, usually twice—even the gay ones. This inspires tremendous confidence in my husband.
My maternal and paternal great-great-grandmothers both divorced their husbands, and later went on to marry different kinds of sex perverts; my grandfather left my grandmother for his secretary and her family; my parents got divorced, and their second marriages and/or common-law relationships fell apart; a whole bunch of aunts, uncles, and cousins all split up—which leaves us with a portrait of a shattered family and some very robust hybridized genes. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. After the nuclear winter, all that’s going to be left standing are cockroaches and Bees.
Our family tree has been hit by lightning so many times, we’re really more of a charred, ungroomed topiary hedge of misfits trying to figure out how we’re related. Nobody’s really sure what to call anybody else at family gatherings. Are you an aunt? Can I just call you Debbie? Are you a cousin? Oh, so you’re related to the lady who was standing in front of the shed during the baby shower? So then . . . am I technically allowed to fool around with your son at the family reunion? Whoops, too late, I already did.
But after all the heartache and confusion, and cousin-on-cousin make-out sessions, getting to have a stepmother like the one I have was the single best result anyone could have hoped for. In keeping with family tradition, my parents threw in the towel when I was an infant, after a long and uneventful high school romance and subsequent teen pregnancy. The fact that they followed through with the pregnancy at all seemed to be their own inept form of teen rebellion, though of course, for obvious reasons I’m grateful for it. Although I officially lived with my mother, I saw my dad on weekends, and my grandmother and great-grandmother were there to fill in the gaps. And though I adored my parents in a way that bordered on adulation, there were many, many of those gaps.
My mother never remarried out of the sheer terror that she would again be saddled with someone like my father. My father, suffering from a similar terror that he would again be saddled with someone like my mother, opted out of the dating pool entirely by marrying her polar opposite. Sensing that there might be a shortfall in the area of competent parenting, my father was sure that his freshly ratified marriage offered the kind of stability that his child deserved.
It must be terrifying to be thrust into the position of stepparent, but my stepmother, Marilyn, was game and jumped into it full steam ahead with little regard for its perils. I was certainly not the kind of child she was used to, but she seemed confident that she could provide me with the kind of wholesome family experiences almost no one who is not a character on a television show has ever had. She exploded onto the scene, breathing a fresh, minty new life into our musty old father-daughter weekends, formerly spent watching NFL games and quietly munching on doughnut holes. Her energy contrasted sharply with what I was used to; she was a busy maker, chatty, industrious, always baking something delicious, pouring vinegar into the dishwasher to cleanse its inner workings, and finding clever uses for leftover Reader’s Digests. I was scandalized by the stop-sign patch she wore on the back of her jeans, and desperate for her to give me a Toni Home Perm identical to hers, as I knew only she could.
Though she would have denied it at the time, Marilyn found me peculiar. For one thing, I was exceptionally quiet, though I preferred to think of myself as multifaceted and thoughtful. I was the living definition of the term indoor kid. I wasn’t technically allergic to the sun or to fresh air, but stepped outside infrequently and gingerly anyway, like a baby vampire learning to survive in the civilian world. I had the complexion of Powder and the muscle tone of a pile of flubber. And since I was basically being raised by senior citizens at the time, my physical activity was limited to driving around the park to look at the trees, driving to the lake to look at the lake, and driving to the mall to look at coats that were “car length.”
My grandmother had been raised during the time of polio, so to her, every other child was just an infected mucus machine gunning for her precious only grandchild. On the rare occasions she would actually send me off to the playground, it was always with a laundry list of warnings: “Don’t share a comb!” because she was paranoid about lice. “That Stella is a real pimple-hatch; don’t go near her face with yours!” “Don’t choke to death on your iced [sic] cream sandwich—choking is an agonizing way to die.” And “Watch out for cars. Before you know it, they’ll run over you and drag you down the street to your death, and they won’t even have felt the bump.” She needn’t have worried about me at the playground. All I did was sit in one spot on a bench and count down the seconds before I could reasonably return home and claim that I had played on the teeter-totter with some nit-riddled Pimplestiltskin.
I’m pretty sure my stepmom suspected that I thought I was better than everybody else, but actually, what I suffered from was acute and crippling shyness. I was afraid of everything. I wet the bed at night because I was tortured by the fear that I would wake everybody up if I flushed the toilet. I was terrified that other children would speak to me or inflict their halitosis on me. I was afraid to walk across the green shag broadloom because I thought there was a chance it would transmogrify into the Indian Ocean and drown me while my legs were simultaneously being consumed by a hammerhead shark. According to the vast library of shark-death and nautical-disaster literature on my bookshelf, only a few feet of water were required for either. I disliked competition of any kind, because I only liked to win at things and didn’t like to try if victory seemed improbable. I would get claustrophobic in public washrooms if they weren’t close enough to where people were gathering, because I thought that a pedophile was going to try to snatch me. I slept with a dirty strip of squirrel fur that I had ripped off my grandmother’s coat and called my “rat.” If I couldn’t find my rat, I would sob quietly and moan “Ratty” until my mother fished him out of the garbage again for the last time. I just wanted to hang out with adults and be accepted as one of their own and be let into their adult secret society that included such things as “swearing” and “reading dirty books.”
By the time I was seven, my mother and I were living in an old mansion that had been a veterans’ hospital during the war and had since been converted into apartments. My mother was dating the owner of the building, and so, to get me out of their hair, they gave me my own dedicated apartment, where I kept all of my toys and records and had my own kitchen. I used to sit up there, in my bell tower of sorts, staring out the window at all the unkempt children playing in the streets, while I ate dry chocolate cake batter with a spoon and listened to my disco records over and over again.
It was an eerie place for such an eerie child to live. Many people had died there, either because of their injuries or, in one case, because of a grisly ax-murder-suicide. As a result, I was besieged by terrible nightmares. When I would descend the long nights of stairs from my apartment to the one my mother shared with her boyfriend, I envisioned axes flying at my head, murderous spirits pursuing me down the hall, body snatchers and cobras lying in wait under the staircase. I lived in fear of being chopped up into little pieces or being buried alive and suffocating to death. Every time I opened a door I thought Nosferatu was going to be on the other side of it ready to suck out all my blood and that Linda Blair would be behind him to telekinetically throw me out a window and finish me off.
So when my stepmother suggested that I was in need of some tepid childhood pastimes, like “tea parties” and “potato sack races,” I couldn’t even begin to comprehend what she was talking about—she may as well have been speaking Romulan. Except that if she had been speaking Romulan, I probably would have understood since I was spending so many warm sunny days inside watching Star Trek reruns by myself.
I didn’t know how to skate, I didn’t know how to swim, I didn’t know how to ride a bicycle or socialize, and I didn’t care. School “activity days” in the park were an unimaginable source of stress for me. I would spend night after night tossing and turning, imagining myself trying to run to the beanbag with that goddamned egg on the spoon, while I blushed and messed up my team’s chances of winning the relay race.
My head was a medical mystery; it not only housed my brain and kept me alive but it was also a genuine soccer ball magnet, as long as the ball was being kicked around by cool teenagers in public spaces. Not only would the ball hit me squarely in the face but those same teenagers would then somehow expect me to return it swiftly and accurately. As the ball flew willy-nilly from my spasmodic kick, I would comfort myself with the knowledge that at least I was amazing at The Price Is Right Cliff Hangers game, and that that took the kind of intellect that would serve me better in the future than any mindless sports-ball games.
My stepmother came from a large family and was never afforded the kind of total one-on-one attention that I was used to. When you’re the baby in a big group of siblings, you don’t get a say in anything. Your mom cuts your hair by putting a bowl on your head and cutting around it with kitchen shears. Sometimes she doesn’t even bother dirtying a bowl and just eyeballs it freehand. You have to eat what’s on your plate, drink plain white milk, and no one thinks to care whether you like it or you don’t. You have to beat your own underpants on a rock down by the river to get them clean, no one will intervene in sibling fights unless someone is bleeding, and if you’re a toddler and you want to be fed, you have to push your own high chair up to the table.
Marilyn always tells the story of how taken aback she was when she first met me as a five-year-old girl, and I took a rain check on the green beans she was serving at the table. When she got to me, I said, “Oh, not right now, thank you. I’m actually not fond of those,” and assumed that was that. Despite how politely I had declined the green beans, I hadn’t realized that I wasn’t being given a choice—nothaving them was not an option. I was unaccustomed to this kind of absolutism.
From that point forward, I never understood what was acceptable at my father’s house. Why were the preferences and individuality of a child so difficult for them to understand? When I commanded my dual grannies to fetch me a Butterfinger and a ginger ale after a hard day of sticking beans up my nose in kindergarten, they were delivered to me posthaste, right in front of the TV, just where I liked it, so that I could nourish my inner aspect while I watched The Commander Tom Show.
As I was shuttled among three houses, I really started to get stressed about the triple life I was leading. I loved my dad and stepmom; I just didn’t know how to act when I was at their house. Nobody could figure out what was going on with me, but I kept complaining about stomachaches and nausea as I tried to bow out of various events. I thought I was being really artful, because my technique was to gorge on Sara Lee coffee cake until I felt sick, and then I wouldn’t have to lie about not being able to do things. No thinking adult could have missed the sweetly scented frosting torpor that overtook me, paralyzing me in front of my cartoons, sometimes for days at a time. My family doctor prescribed medication for me—a placebo, though I did not know it at the time—that we called “green stuff.” I would take it when I was feeling particularly overwrought about something, which was basically every day.
After the intolerable disaster that was my eighth birthday party—wherein I promptly retreated to my room in hysterical, unstoppable tears as soon as all the children arrived, and sat alone breathing into a paper bag while they enjoyed the festivities—Marilyn had had it. I was an abnormal child and it was time for me to start doing the kinds of things that other children were doing, and loving it. What kind of a child was “allergic to people singing ‘Happy Birthday,’” anyway? I needed to be fixed, and early intervention was key. She loved a make-work project, and this was going to be a good one. No more reading inside on sunny days, no more spending summers inside my grandmother’s air-conditioned apartment, putting my Barbie dolls in “mature situations” and catching up on my stories. It was off to camp for me! Well, day camp anyway, because my dad and stepmom were also kind of cheap.
The day camp they sent me to was called Camp Summer Fun, which even I as an eight-year-old knew was lame. It was affiliated with the community college where they both worked, and employed college kids who were pursuing advanced degrees in recreational management and leisure studies but who were mainly interested in getting high all day and fucking each other’s brains out while we made friendship bracelets in the next room.
I spent most of my time at camp idolizing Adele, the hottest of the counselors. We all did. The girls were like a little band of tiny helper monkeys who would follow Adele from room to room doing whatever needed to be done. I learned quickly that Adele needed a lot of attention and pampering, so I became the most lethal of the helper monkeys—the alpha helper, if you will—chasing away all the others in service to My Feather-Haired Queen. The other little girls became my sworn enemies, pathetic pretenders to the job.
Clean up the decoupage key-chain station, Adele? No problem! Can I grab you a Capri Sun on the way back? Should I put the needle back on “Hotel California” again, Adele? Can I get your smokes for you? Yes, my nimble kid fingers would love to trace the letters of the alphabet across your back while you file your two-inch-long fingernails . . . and might you like to indulge in a finger dip of my cherry Lik-M-Aid? I’d be more than happy to oblige.
When we trucked off as a group to the local pool, I occupied my time running back and forth from the pool to Adele, shuttling handfuls of cool water to splash across her thighs to keep her from overheating. She may not have known my name, but I’m positive that she found me disturbing. I returned from my summer of fun not having learned how to swim or interact positively with other children. I still didn’t know how to ride a bike or throw a baseball, but everybody in my family was pretty sure I was gay.
To supplement this highly successful foray into outdoor activities, Marilyn launched a brand-new family tradition—camping trips. She wanted to get me into a more natural setting so that I could learn to appreciate the beauty and majesty of Canada’s wonders. In an equally inexpensive way.
We started small, by “rock-and-roll camping” in parking lots and open fields. I’m not sure these expeditions could be considered outdoorsy, since our tent would end up surrounded by so many cars with their engines running that it was akin to camping under the exhaust pipe of a Helix tour bus.
Everyone in Canada seemed to do this. The first (still cold) holiday weekend of the year meant that everyone would load up the Trans Am with hot dogs and a pup tent, and drive until all the cars suddenly stopped in what appeared to be a parking lot edged with trees. Then everyone would throw their car doors open and blast the music of BTO into the night sky as they ate beans from a can and drank themselves blind. Then, although most people would just end up passing out in their cars, others would crawl fully clothed into their tiny tents and emerge in the morning, bleary eyed and still wearing the same outfit, for a bowl of Froot Loops with some milk that had been left out overnight. Everyone would spend a bit of time nursing their armpits or some other random body part that had been third-degree sunburned from having napped in the sun in a weird way the day before. And there was always some guy, still drunk from the night before, fishing around in the campfire ashes for an uneaten hot dog or two.
We went on these rock-and-roll camping trips for a long time, until Marilyn could no longer condone them. They were not making the kind of wholesome impact that had been the impetus for the journey in the first place. It was tough baking homemade bread on a hibachi, while all around us half-naked fat dudes were torching lawn chairs and playing beer bottle baseball as the music from all the car stereos combined into a loud musical maelstrom that you could barely talk over.
So they bought a more substantial trailer, and we began taking real trips to real places that a person might actually want to visit. I was always permitted to bring a friend. In my case, that usually meant bringing my cousin, since no one else really wanted to hang out with me for extended periods of time, but she had to because we were related.
Marilyn took camping very seriously. Preparing for a camping trip was a little bit like preparing for the End of Days. Lists were checked and rechecked. Shopping trips were all-day excursions to source out ingredients for complex meals that could still kind of be prepared without basic kitchen appliances but with a tremendous amount of effort and a high rate of failure. My father would just tag along or pretend to be thinking up strategies for how to get better fuel economy by reducing the drag on the trailer, for example, when really he was just reading Penthouse on the toilet.
Every aspect of the trip was approached strategically, so as to effectively leech all of the excitement out of it long before the actual date of departure. We always had to leave at four o’clock in the morning, for no justifiable reason whatsoever, and our traveling outfits were planned weeks in advance. We ate our predawn meal on napkins so as not to dirty even one last dish before we left the house.
Nobody was ever sure why Marilyn wanted to go camping in the first place because it seemed so contrary to her personality. She had such a meticulous way of running her household, and everything about camping flew in the face of that level of cleanliness. Trailer camping was basically like maintaining a house that you had to drag behind your car, and for someone like Marilyn, that had to be torture. Even worse, all camping-related activities took place outside, where all the dirt was. If we weren’t tracking mud into the tent trailer, it was the sand from our bathing suits. Rain brought mold, sloppy eating brought crumbs, and any insect that dared to fly into our little sanctuary would be promptly beaten to the consistency of a dark paste and stuffed in a giant wad of Kleenexes and paper towels.
Also, she hated forest creatures. Not the big, majestic ones but the ones that you actually tend to see on a camping trip: raccoons, bats, mice, and heaven forfend, skunks. She disliked their ratlike features, their ratlike love of garbage, and the ratlike way that they scuttled around even though they weren’t actually afraid of you at all. If one of them mistakenly wandered into our campsite, it was met with a lot of high-pitched panic and clambering into the trailer en masse to keep our feet out of the way of their rabies. When Marilyn supervised my father’s efforts to string our garbage up a tree at night, she wanted it up so high and so precariously placed that none of those creatures would even dare try and get at it. The risks to my father’s life were irrelevant.
None of my gloomy idiosyncrasies were welcome on our camping trips. I brought the whole Laura Ingalls Wilder box set of Little House on the Prairie books, but that was just to keep up appearances. No longer satisfied by simple stories of families who churned their own butter, I had secretly snuck in a contraband copy of the comic book version of Alien with which to terrify myself. At least I could continue the tradition of having horrible nightmares, especially in the middle of the woods where wild creatures like the ones Marilyn feared roamed freely. While she lay there imagining that “forest rats” were somehow embedding their dirty turds into our hammock, I would lie there paralyzed by fear and, with each twig snap, imagine my head getting raped by an alien face-hugger.
I liked to spend most of my time inside the tent trailer, of course, playing quietly by myself, much to the dismay of Marilyn and my father. In the morning, I rarely peed before noon, because it just didn’t seem worth it to walk all the way across the grass to the comfort station; besides, I could hold it like a real pro. But everyone grew uncomfortable watching me strain to hold my urine for hours at a time. The edict came down: time to join the land of the living and exit the tent trailer during daylight hours. Even on days that were overcast. Thank goodness I was usually able to play quietly by myself outside just as easily as I had inside.
I have no memory of Marilyn ever sitting down and relaxing on any of our trips. My dad could sit all day in a fugue state, happily staring into the embers of a fire, while Marilyn was busy working her ass off at the idea of enjoying camping. And for her that meant turning out meal after complicated meal on an electric hot plate and a single-burner propane stove. I’d be out in the camping spot playing a rousing game of one-person lawn darts, and Marilyn would emerge from the trailer, covered in carrot shavings, a tennis sweatband around her forehead to keep the work perspiration from dripping into her eyes.
“We’re having a vegetarian timpano! Help me turn the crank on the pasta maker!”
They were memorable trips, thanks to her careful planning and meticulous attention to the fun quotient in every destination on the itinerary. If you crossed her, though, you were in the S-H-I-T. None of us ever dared. We did all of our assigned chores without saying a thing. And if you had the misfortune of camping near us and you thought that your weekend was going to be a whimsical walk in the park, think again—the nerd campers next to you would turn you in to the park rangers at the slightest infraction without a second thought.
You better dispose of your garbage properly, behave yourself, stop your little dog from barking too much, keep the music down, and don’t even think about smoking a doobie. Contact highs are real, you degenerate. No shenanigans whatsoever after dark, put the guitar away while the child is busy having her nightmares, and no smut mouths will be tolerated.
Violate any of these sacred principles of our camping enjoyment, and you would get a visit from the crazy lady next door. She would sneak up on you and scare you as you sat stoned by your campfire, by shining a million-watt flashlight in your eyes and threatening to narc on you. You should take her seriously because she will take you down if she has to throw you on her back and swim across a lake to the closest ranger station. You don’t know what someone this determined is capable of. When you regain your vision, you will see a woman who trudged alone through a cranberry bog in the middle of the night in rubber boots and pajamas, her perm flattened on one side from sleep, with the crazed eyes of a person who has spent the better part of her evening inhaling bleach fumes from trying to scrub a barbecue grill back to its factory shine; while “the man of the house” cowered in the trailer, praying that no one would try to start a fight.
When Marilyn burst onto someone else’s campsite, people stood up and listened. Nobody ever didn’t do as she asked, because no one was ever interested in a second visit. We were the most hated enemies of all the other campers, with our barbecued muffins and eight o’clock bedtimes.
Occasionally, we would go on a camping trip that was more “wilderness” oriented, up to Algonquin Park, for example. We went on paddling trips and nature walks, which were rigorous and beautiful, but we never really got to see any of the wildlife. You could never sneak up on a wild animal with Marilyn in your canoe. You would be paddling too hard to the beat of a Maori call-and-response rowing song she had researched and taught you in the car on the trip up.
Whenever my cousin or any of my friends accompanied us on one of our trips, it took a while for them to get used to her deep reserves of energy and focus. Even as little girls, an as yet undiscovered part of us wanted to seem cute and chaseable to whatever gangly boys were around, camping with their own parents. But when we appeared on-site in our souped-up trailer, our thoroughness alienated us from the other campers. Our campsite was so tidy it looked like the forest floor had been vacuumed; the boys could tell we were going to be too high-maintenance. My friends and I were mortified by Marilyn’s shushy ways. And my father was terrified he was going to get his teeth knocked out and secretly wished that he was the one making enough of a ruckus to be on the receiving end of a shush. You could see him look longingly through the trees at the other campers while he tried to concoct some phony moral outrage for the benefit of his wife.
“Hmph. Those people are animals. Look at the one with the big boobs, there. What a dumb bunny. She’s gonna start a forest fire with all that lighter fluid she’s using ...”
But we were too busy Turtle Waxing the white walls on the Duster to notice.
“Who does she think she’s fooling, anyway, with those big juicy boobs? Not me! I can spot fake boobs from a mile away! Jeebus H. Krispies—are you seeing this? Get those things in a proper top. There are children present! Disgusting. So fake. Hanging all out of that bikini top. Let me put on my glasses so I can get a better look.”
I never truly appreciated the power of a good shush until the time it saved all of our lives on a wilderness hike that we had undertaken in a remote corner of Algonquin Park. We were finishing up a fairly strenuous four-mile hike when we entered something of an arbor on the way back to our car. We were following a roughly hewn path, but all around us were thick trees and bush so impenetrable and tangled that you really couldn’t see into the forest at all. As the rest of us trod lamely along the path, Marilyn forged ahead, guiding the way with her indomitable energy. When she stopped abruptly, we all stopped. And then we heard the sound of a bear. A giant bear, in fact, that seemed to be approximately three inches into the thicket beside us, growling at us in what I think was the most low, menacing sound I have ever heard in my life. We instinctively knew that any animal willing to tolerate the sound of us tromping through the forest jingling our bear bells and singing “Whistle While You Work” was desperate and looking to make a kill.
In an instant, my father and I forgot everything we had been told about how to survive a bear attack and decided instead to surrender ourselves to the creature for immediate dismemberment. I considered the fact that, while my father would make a more substantial meal, I would make an infinitely more tender morsel for a hungry animal. But Marilyn had no time to worry about her own inherent deliciousness. She sprang into action, becoming like a wild mother bear herself, circling her cubs, and shushing that angry bear within an inch of its life. She leaned into the arbor.
“HEY! Get away from us! TAKE OFF!”
My father and I were stunned.
“Listen, BEAR. You get out of our G.D. way, OR ELSE.”
Nothing was more precious to Marilyn than preserving the illusion of a world without swears, even in the face of death.
“We are GOING TO OUR CAR, AND WE DON’T WANT ANY OF YOUR BUNK.”
My stepmother was PG-yelling at the bear like it was a naked frat boy defecating on our campsite picnic table after mandatory lights-out.
“We don’t want your silly cub, so GO EAT SOME BERRIES, YOU GREAT LUMBERING B-WORD OF A THING. Come near us, and I will SINGLEHANDEDLY INSERT THIS MEGAWATT FLASHLIGHT WHERE THE SUN DON’T SHINE. THIS IS NOT GOING TO BE COMFORTABLE FOR YOU. Do not MESS WITH ME. I will DESTROY YOU. I am not above TEARING THAT BIG, UGLY HEAD OF YOURS OFF THAT BIG, UGLY NECK and putting it ON MY WALL to hang my PURSE on. PUT THAT in your PIPE and SMOKE IT. Go TO H-E-DOUBLE-HOCKEY-STICKS!”
We clung together in a pack and moved as one down the long, shady corridor to the parking lot, as Marilyn fiercely defended us. Even as my life was being saved, the nerd in me was humiliated and angst-y What did the bear think of me now? Did she think I was as much of a wiener as I already knew I was? In any case, we didn’t camp with much regularity after that event. I suppose everyone had gotten tired of the routine, all the work, all the damp underclothes and unbearable horsefly bites. But still we had the memory of something very special. We were like the keepers of an incredible secret; no subsequent camping trip would ever live up to the electrifying drama of the day Marilyn saved our lives by b-word-slapping an angry bear into submission.
Our camping trips did not “normalize” me—they had no tangible effect on my tentative embrace of nature, and they did not make me any less likely to cry when someone sings me “Happy Birthday.” But every so often, when I’m in the quiet darkness of a movie theater . . . and I’m really enjoying whatever it is that I’m watching, and some asshole behind me starts discussing with his giggling girlfriend what he had for lunch that day, I think of Marilyn and her bravery and her inability to suffer fools gladly. Thanks to her and her willingness to trudge across a marsh in her pajamas to scold an entire rugby team high on crystal meth, I am the person I am today.
Yes, I will dive into a satisfying shush without thinking twice. Yes, I am willing to humiliate my husband in this way, even if it means that he will watch the rest of the movie crouched down in his seat and pretending that he does not know me and that I am homeless. But I am not afraid to restore balance to our movie-watching experience in the manner of an angry menopausal woman. In short, yes, I am that person in front of you. Now shut up and let me watch my movie. Thank you.
© 2010 Samantha Bee
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